Today we start clearing up the gender confusion, and by the end of the six weeks, all the confusion will be gone. This is so wrongly titled here. But what I want to do before we start is to summarize the series, so you get an idea of where we’re going. Because if you try to figure out what the series is on merely by what we talk about today or any other given week, you might miss the big picture. And so, this is what we’re going to cover.
Today, confusion: what is happening to gender? We are in a very unique moment. Our culture right now is shredding all its meaning maps, fluidifying itself, like putting coat our culture in the shredder. And so today we’re going to talk about that kind of from a huge picture perspective. Next week, we’ll turn to beauty: what is God’s design for gender? That can be really hard to see because all of us have our war stories, how gender has been misunderstood or misrepresented, or deeply hurt by people in the name of gender. So, we want to go back and try to get a glimpse, what does God intend? Thirdly, man: what does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be a woman? What does that look like in church? What does that look like in home?
So, we’re starting ten thousand feet up, and then we’re going to move down slowly into the community room, into the living room, the bedroom. We’ll apply it in many different ways, but that is where we’re heading. And let me challenge you to try to be here all six weeks. I know there will be sometimes where you might not either agree with everything or understand exactly what we’re saying, and it’s going to be really hard to catch it if you hit and miss. So, try to commit to the six weeks if you can, and then, hopefully we will try to get our arms around this difficult but beautiful area. So, let’s ask for help.
Father, we need help. This is an area that is really easy to get wrong. And we want to hear your voice. We want to listen to your Word. We want to be sensitive to what has happened in our culture, what is happening, what is happening in our hearts, and we’re just asking that your Spirit would take this big picture message today and apply it in very specific ways to all who are here, whether we need confrontation and repentance or whether we need comfort and encouragement. You know what we need, and we pray that you would provide that today through your Word. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
So, when we talk about what is happening regarding gender, we have to begin with definitions. Up to the 1950s, sex and gender basically meant the state of being male or female. After the 50s and 60s, the terms were divided. Sex basically means biological differences between males and females. Gender now means social characteristics. So, biological characteristics of male and female, and then gender is social characteristics of males and females. With the birth of the gender theory in the 60s and 70s, the idea of gender has become more and more pliable, more and more elastic. Even trying to define gender theory is quite difficult. It’s hard to find a universal, agreed-upon definition of what gender theory actually is. The best way my mind can get around it is gender theory today is anything that dismantles binary categories of gender. Binary means what? Two.
So, anything that dismantles the idea that there are two genders, male and female, kind of falls under the umbrella of gender theory today. Entire university departments are devoted to this area. So, the reasoning goes, since gender is a social construct, then it can be deconstructed and reconstructed indefinitely, and more than can be, it must be! Your salvation as a human being depends on it. Your self-discovery enlightenment, being true to yourself and finding yourself and knowing who you really are, requires you to deconstruct and reconstruct your gender identity. Rebecca Reiley-Cooper, a British professor actually of political philosophy but she dives into gender, summarizes the current view of gender today. “Humans of both sexes would be liberated if we recognized that while gender is indeed an internal, innate, essential facet of our identities, there are more genders than just ‘woman’ or ‘man’ to choose from.
And the next step on the path to liberation is the recognition of a new range of gender identities: so we now have people referring to themselves as ‘gender queer’ or ‘non-binary’ or ‘pangender’ (which means all genders), or ‘polygender’ (many), ‘agender’ (none), ‘demiboy’ or ‘demigirl’ (demi means partially), or ‘neutrois’ (which is neutral, genderless), ‘aporagender’ (the word ‘apora’ means separate, not male or female but not genderless), ‘lunagender’ (which is a fluid gender identity changing in a cycle like a lunar cycle), ‘quantumgender’ (obviously many genders simultaneously)… I could go on.”
What is essentially believed is that gender is nonbinary on a spectrum, and that spectrum is infinite. Judith Butler, in her popular book back in the 90s, Gender Trouble, argued that both sex and gender, sex and gender are socially constructed and fabricate a system of oppression that requires that it be dismantled. So, she described gender as “fiction,” “fabrication,” “fantasy.” When you talk about gender, she argued that you are talking about “theatre.” Therefore someone can alter, create, obliterate their gender at any time, for any reason, and the key at the center of it all is the person’s will. This is important. Remember that. Because if you detach gender from biology, it is freely floating, and its only determination is will. The will, the want. And this has led many to define this as pomosexual. Someone might be a pomosexual. “Pomo” is short for post-modern view of sexuality.
Now, is this confusing to anyone? If you’re not confused, you’re probably not thinking. If you are confused, you’re trying to think, and you need to stop. Because it is confusing, and even advocates of this idea are confused because it’s really hard to get your arms around it. Once you detach something from reality, from any kind of biological or scientific connection, and it becomes free-floating, it can be really, really confusing. And then if you’re crazy enough to believe the Bible, Christians who come along and suddenly start quoting passages like Genesis 1:27,
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
Do you see how that statement right there is like the ultimate “the emperor has no clothes on” announcement in our culture? And it sounds crazy that you could believe that God actually made male and female, and that that was his design. We’re not going to talk about that today. We’ll talk about that next week. But can you not see how that view in this culture would be interpreted as oppressive or even dangerous? It is the ultimate counter-cultural view today.
So, how should we as Christians who believe things like that, think about and talk about an area of human identity that is so sensitive, so controversial within a culture where those who disagree will either be seduced or suppressed. Seduced to agree and go along and participate or suppressed and shut down. And this is where I believe Psalm 12 can provide us some help and provide a framework from which we can approach this vital subject. Obviously, David’s purpose in Psalm 12 is not to address gender, but what he is doing is he’s crying out. This is a lament, a communal lament during a time when there is massive upheaval.
And when I read Psalm 12, I think of a time when I was, I don’t know nine, ten, something like that. Our family was up at my grandparents. They lived on a lake up in Maine, and it started getting dark, tornado coming across this massive lake. You could see the waves whipping up. A big sailboat moored in front of the house flipped like it was nothing. Trees started to fall, and the trees around my grandparents’ house were scary big, huge things that went straight up, branchless until almost near the top. That’s why in this area, they cut down trees into the lake (a couple hundred years ago), and they would float them down the lake, down the river, out to Portland, Maine, where they would be turned into masts for the big sailing vessels. So you’ve got these trees all around you with a tornado coming in, things being flipped and falling. Where did we go for safety?
Fortunately, my grandparents had a basement where you could tuck back in behind there and it was, besides the fact that our dog was going crazy, it was a safe place in the midst of a huge storm. Psalm 12 is describing that kind of situation. It is essentially a prayer for divine intervention. You can see it right at the beginning, a prayer for divine intervention. Verse 1, “Save, O Lord.” Verse 3, “May the Lord cut off.” Verse 5, God responds. “I will now arise. I will place him in the safety for which he longs,” this safe space in the storm. Verse 7, “You, O Lord, will keep them; you will guard us from this generation forever.” There’s a divine progression in this psalm you will see. Request, verses 1-3. Response, verse 5, God responds, “I will now arise.” Reassurance, verse 7, “I’m going to keep you. I’m going to guard you. I will not just rush in, rescue, and abandon. I will preserve you.”
This is the heart of the psalm. We need you, God! If we trust ourselves and if we’re going to follow our hearts towards some kind of safe place, we are going to get it wrong. We’re actually going to do things that make it worse. This psalm is doing what we’ve been doing the last few weeks in crying out for God’s help. But then the bulk of the psalm, the bulk of the content of the psalm is answering the question “why?” Why do we need divine intervention? And he gives three reasons.
Number one, the fake is replacing the real. Look at verse 1, “Save, O Lord, for the godly one is gone, for the faithful have vanished from among the children of men.” So there is a storm that is actually causing people to disappear. The picture to me seems like a totalitarian state, where resistance leaders suddenly start disappearing, like where’s Mr…? Where did…? People are gone. And he describes them as the godly, and that word “godly” is a rich word. Quick Hebrew lesson for a second. Does this word sound familiar?
“Chasid.” If you’re visiting, ignore me when I pretend to know Hebrew. But if you’ve been around a while you’ve heard a word because I’ve mentioned it, because it’s one of the richest words in the whole Old Testament “chesed,” which is God’s loyal love. “Chesed.” It’s all over. His covenantal, loyal love. That’s “chesed.” This is “chasid.” It’s a relative, and it’s referring not to God’s loyal love, but to the person whose life is shaped by living out God’s loyal love. That’s the word “godly” here. It’s someone who, the form, the shape of his or her life is bent to the contour of God’s covenantal love.
And David is lamenting that they’re gone. Where are they? They seem to be vanishing instead. Verse 2, “Everyone utters lies.” That word “lies” is emptiness. There’s nothing to it. Everyone utters “emptiness” to his neighbor. “With flattering lips” (literally, that’s “with a lip of smoothness,” in other words, they are telling each other what they want to hear), “and a double heart they speak.” Literally in Hebrew, it’s “a heart and a heart.” When you are two-hearted, you become two-faced, double-tongued, like what’s in the heart comes out on the face, out of the mouth. You become a hypocrite. The pressure to conform, the storm’s pressure is so strong, the pressure to conform produces pretenders. And as Derek Kidner laments, “The deceiver becomes one of his own victims, with no truth to unite his character.” That’s why he ends up with “a heart and a heart,” two separate hearts. Propaganda is now replacing truth, and the goal has ceased to be communication and has now become manipulation. The fake is replacing the real.
Secondly, we need divine intervention because the autonomous is taking advantage of the powerless. The autonomous, that is self-governing, is taking advantage of the powerless, the needy. Look at verse 3, “May the Lord cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that makes great boasts, those who say, ‘with our tongue we will prevail, our lips are with us; who is master over us?’” So, the psalmist is asking God to please silence the speech police, those who wield their power through words, defining terms, controlling speech, and recognizing no other authority than themselves. “Who is master over us?” We are our own authority. We define what is good and what is evil.
Does this not sound like Genesis 3? When the enemy told Eve… (God had just created the world and declared it good, and God was the one who defined what was good and what was not), and the enemy came to Eve and said, “You define what is good. Look at that tree. That’s good. It doesn’t matter what God says is good and evil. Who is master over us?” Verse 5, “‘Because the poor (the weak, the destitute) are plundered because the needy groan, I will now arise,’ says the Lord, ‘I will place him in the safety for which he longs.’” I’m going to put him in a secure place in the midst of this “word wind.”
So, God is rising in response to the groaning of the most vulnerable. This is huge here. Deceptions are not just empty theories bouncing off college lecture halls. They actually affect real people. They destroy real lives. This isn’t a game, is what David is lamenting. It’s fun to keep coming up with all these new theories, but he is lamenting the fact that the power of this windstorm primarily made up of words, actually takes advantage of the weak, the vulnerable, and especially the young. So why is divine intervention needed?
Number 1, the fake is replacing the real, the autonomous is taking advantage of the powerless, and number 3, the vile is overtaking the valuable. The vile is overtaking the valuable. Look at verse 7, “You, O Lord, will keep them; you will guard us from this generation forever. On every side, the wicked strut (or prowl, flaunt themselves) as vileness is exalted among the children of man.” That statement at the end of verse 8 is really important because that statement about “the children of man,” that reference in verse 7 “from this generation forever,” you’ll notice verse 1, “the children of man” is mentioned again. The psalm begins with “the children of man,” ends with “the children of man.” In the Hebrew, it’s “Ben Adam.” Ben, son of Adam. These are sons of Adam.
So, David is not merely referring to a specific situation that he has experienced, which he may be, we don’t know the background of this psalm. The setting of this psalm may have been when King Saul was hunting David, and everybody was turning against him. We don’t know for sure. But the way David wrote, inspired by the Spirit, removes it from a specific situation and universalizes it. We’re talking about a generational crisis here. We’re talking about the sons of Adam, children of man. And so, I think there’s a huge application for us even today here. That word “vileness” in verse 8 carries two ideas. Kidner points this out: cheapness and excessiveness. Cheapness and excessiveness. Cheapness in the sense that the valuable becomes trivial, worthless, combined with unrestrained appetite. That’s why this word sometimes is translated “gluttonous,” putting the accent on the second part, but it really carries both ideas within it.
And this vileness is especially toxic because of its tendency to both cheapen and heighten. The base gets exalted, and the beautiful is debased. It is cheapening and heightening. Now these three reasons why we need divine intervention could be summarized in three words. This is still just unpacking this psalm.
First, deception. The fake is replacing the real. Second, demolition. The poor are plundered. The weak are destroyed. Third section, deflation. The vile is cheapened, I mean the valuable is cheapened. There’s a massive deflation. So, let me talk about each one of these really quickly to try to get our arms around this, and then we’ll just see an example.
So, first of all, deception. Propaganda is replacing truth. Verses 1-4, notice all the words about words. Lips, tongues are emphasized. What David is lamenting is the fact that definitions change cultures, or as Rita Mae Brown has said,
“Language exerts hidden power, like the moon on the tides.”
The one who owns the dictionary, in many ways, owns the culture (the one who creates the dictionary). If you get to define terms, you can have a huge impact on the way an entire generation thinks about things for good or bad. And this is part of what James is talking about in chapter 3:5 when he says,
“The tongue is tiny, small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire.”
You take a tiny word and define it improperly, and you can actually decimate an entire forest! So that’s that deception that leads to demolition, like destruction. When David lamented the fact that the poor are being plundered and the needy groan, he’s explaining that philosophical musings and linguistic acrobatics result in real casualties. As our culture is cannibalizing itself in the name of self-discovery and autonomy (who is master over us) real people are being destroyed, and again, especially young ones.
When Mark Sayers was talking recently about his book The Disappearing Church, (he was being interviewed by Scott McKnight), he emphasized how the church has in general, the evangelical church, for many decades has emphasized the need for relevance, cultural relevance. And he was agreeing with that. Obviously, if we as Christians are going to be salt and light in this current culture, we have to be relevant. We have to be where people are and be in the pillars of society in order to influence for good and saving purposes, but then he went on, and I believe rightly warned, that if relevance is the only thing we’re focusing on, we are going to disappear. He advocated a strategy that merges relevance and resilience, not retreat. I’m not talking about getting the bunker mentality, but resilience, a robust resilience, a toughness. Resilience combines two things: toughness and flexibility. Listen to what he said.
“The mood behind the post-Christian culture of the west ultimately seeks to deconstruct and contest” (This is the culture we live in.) “seeks to deconstruct and contest all symbols, stories, traditions, conventions, and structures. How do you apply a strategy of cultural relevance in a western context which liquefies culture?”
It’s a really good question. How should Christians respond within a culture that is not simply devolving, but demolishing cultural structures? What does this have to do with gender? Gender is in the crosshairs of that cultural demolition. If you haven’t noticed that, you need to. The third word in the end of the chapter could be summarized with deflation. In verse 8, he ends with a description of the cheapening, the vileness in tearing everything down with nothing substantial to put in its place. Life, sexuality, gender, human identity, all of that gets liquefied, cheapened and becomes meaningless. And hope evaporates with it.
I could give you countless examples, and it wouldn’t help. So, let me just give you one. And I talked about this example with some of our college students in the college class a few weeks ago. On November 24, 2018, Andrea Long Chu wrote an article in The New York Times Opinion titled, “My New Vagina Won’t Make Me Happy, and It Shouldn’t Have To.” Andrea is a man transitioning into a woman, and I’m going to use her name and feminine pronouns just because I don’t have time to get into the pronoun debate right now, just for clarity. So, a man transitioning into a woman, this is Andrea writing this a few months ago. Since then, she’s had this surgery. She wrote,
“Next Thursday, I will get a vagina. The procedure will last around six hours, and I will be in recovery for at least three months. Until the day I die, my body will regard the vagina as a wound. As a result, it will require regular, painful attention to maintain. This is what I want, but there is no guarantee it will make me happier. In fact, I don’t expect it to. That shouldn’t disqualify me from getting it.
I like to say that being trans is the second-worst thing that ever happened to me. (The worst was being born a boy.) Dysphoria (just means distress) is notoriously difficult to describe to those who haven’t experienced it, like a flavor (describing a flavor). Its official definition – the distress some transgender people feel at the incongruence between the gender they express and the gender they’ve been (that’s loaded) socially assigned – (assuming the doctor just rolled the dice and called him a him) – does little justice to the feeling.”
So what Andrea is about to do is to help us understand the feeling, and as Christians we should move toward that.
“In my experience, at least: dysphoria feels like” (She’s going to use five different images to communicate.) “being unable to get warm, no matter how many layers you put on. It feels like hunger without appetite. It feels like getting on an airplane to fly home, only to realize mid-flight that this is it: you’re going to spend the rest of your life on an airplane. It feels like grieving. It feels like having nothing to grieve.”
Andrea goes on to explain that conservatives call this crazy and argue that she needs help, that liberals advocate for medical intervention in order to ease the pain, prevent depression, suicide, substance abuse. Then Andrea rejects both of those views and argues that even though she’s been on hormones, she feels worse, cries often, is more depressed, and is for the first time suicidal, yet she still wants what she wants. So what Andrea’s helping us to understand is to get beyond the superficial rhetoric, which is common in our culture. If you don’t affirm, you’re pointing them toward drugs and suicide, and getting beneath that. Listen to all the “want words.” This is how she concludes.
“I still want this, all of it. I want the tears; I want the pain. Transition doesn’t have to make me happy for me to want it. I also believe that surgery’s only prerequisite should be a simple demonstration of want. Beyond this, no amount of pain, anticipated or continuing, justifies its withholding.”
In other words, it doesn’t matter if it helps me or hurts me, the medical community is obligated to do what I want.
“Nothing, not even surgery, will grant me the mute simplicity of having always been a woman. I will live with this or I won’t. That’s fine. There are no good outcomes in transition.” (Hear the hopelessness?) “There are no good outcomes, there are only people begging to be taken seriously.”
And by seriously, she means giving me what I want. So, what is our response? As Christians what should our first response be? Our first response, I think, should be to see ourselves, to see ourselves in Andrea. Do you see yourself in Andrea? Now, I don’t mean that all of us struggle with gender dysphoria. Many of you may, and some of you may really resonate with her struggle. The dichotomy between psychology and biology, and that feeling like what does it really mean to be a man, to be a woman? We get that. But when I say I identify with her, I mean, I think we all know what it’s like to want something really badly and to run into a wall of reality. Or more specifically to smash into God’s design.
And if you can’t relate to that, then I think it would be good to step back and say, “God, what am I blind to? What do I really want that I don’t seem to be getting, and I’m screaming for people around me or God himself to hear my cry and give me what I want?” So, in that sense, in that sense, Andrea is us, all of us – broken, fallen, marred by sin, conflicting desires. And if we can’t see that in the people around us, if our first response is, we’ve got to pass some laws! If that’s our first response, then we need to repent and get a humble heart and see ourselves first. That’s what Jesus was talking about – If you’re going to help somebody, pick the beam out of their eye, get the mote out of their eye, get the beam out of your own eye first. We see ourselves first.
Secondly, lament. To weep with those who weep. As you hear Andrea describe her experience, it’s horrible. It’s horrible. Unable to get warm, the feeling of being stuck on a flight that never lands, no resolution, and even undergoing this horrible surgery with no hope of anything getting better and the assurance, in her view, that actually things are getting worse. She’s feeling more depressed. Our first response is not to point fingers, but to shed tears. It’s like when Jesus looked on Jerusalem, “How often?” I want to gather you. I want to comfort you. And you will not. Your want is not toward me. So, we weep with those who weep. But then, that is exactly like verse five, “the needy groan.” The needy groan.
Do you see it in our culture? Depression and suicide are way up! The gods of our culture are failing us! And it breaks our hearts. But then we move beyond that to see the heart. See the heart, see Andrea’s heart. And what do I mean by heart, biblically? The heart is the control center of the person. And even though we may describe ourselves as passive, Andrea is describing herself as having no choice in this, she’s just been tossed to and fro by the confidence that she was born in the wrong body, her feelings dominate her, she has no choice but to go down this road.
But you peel that back, and you see a very strong will. She wants. Six times she said, “I want. This what I want. You’re going to give me what I want, or you’re a hater.” You hear the words of verse 4, “Who is master over us?” My wants rule reality. They actually define it and bring it into existence. My wants trump biology. Doesn’t matter what science says. My wants negate the doctor’s obligation to do no harm and mandate that he do harm and amputate and disfigure me. But when you get a glimpse of someone’s heart, that is when hope is born.
Because if you can peel all the political rhetoric, all the social jargon, and you get back to someone’s heart, you find out we happen to know someone who gives new hearts. He does spiritual heart transplants. He gets to the core of what drives us – our will and our emotions and our thoughts. And Jesus actually died for people with broken hearts, sinful, stubborn hearts. Look at verse 5 again of Psalm 12, and this tells us where we turn in the midst of this “word wind.” “Because the weak are plundered, because the needy groan, God says, ‘I will now arise. I will place him in the safety for which he longs.’” That’s the heart of God. “The words of the Lord are pure words, (flawless words) like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.” Seven times is a picture of perfection.
So, in a culture that is dismantling everything stable, you see here God is arising in our midst, and he is providing a safe space, not a room on campus with puppies, but a true safe place in the midst of this storm. Verse 6, “The words of the Lord are pure words,” in contrast to the propaganda, the manipulation, the contaminatives. His word is our safe place. His promises provide security and stability in the midst of everything that is changing, and as Jackie Hill-Perry said at the beginning, “I had to believe that his word was true, even if it contradicted how I felt.”
That’s the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian. “I had to believe his word is true, even if it contradicts how I feel. My feelings are not my master. He is.” And that’s the foundation of our series and of our lives. Let’s pray.
O God, save us from our deceptions when our feelings contradict your Word, and all of us here can identify with that. Rescue our culture, which is seducing and suppressing. We need you, and we pray that you would use us. As you arise in us, you would speak hope to the vulnerable through us. As you have placed us in the safety for which we long, God, you would do that for others through us.
Let us be conduits of your kindness. And protect us, Lord. Guard us and keep us from this generation forever. You have not set us free so that we would go back and become slaves. We are yours. We are children of you, and so, Lord, we pray that you would fill us with your spirit and bear fruit through us this week for your glory. In Jesus’ name. Amen.